Review: ‘Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert’

A week or so before Christmas, I read Carl Trueman’s review of Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s book, “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert“. I was so impressed by the review that I decided to buy the book (Kindle edition – even though I don’t have a Kindle. I know, I’m mad! I read it using the Kindle Android app…) I read the book over Christmas, and I have a few thoughts about it which I’d like to share here. (You may want to read Carl Trueman’s review first, as I will be referring to it).

First things first a quick synopsis of the book: Rosaria was a committed lesbian professor of English at a secular university, and she specialised in Queer Theory. This book is a record of her move from her position there into faith. The first half of the book focusses on her gradual journey towards faith, and the second moves on towards her experiences post-conversion.

So, first things first: on a positive note, I agree with much of what Carl Trueman says. I was particularly struck by how what won Rosaria over was her pastor friend, who seemed to counsel her with a huge amount of godly wisdom. It was quite humbling thinking about some of the opportunities I’ve had in the past where I’ve tried to rely on myself – not a good move.

I also found it refreshing to read an honest account of conversion – what it is like for someone like Rosaria: it was never a “Damascus road” experience; it didn’t solve everything overnight – it was messy. Incredibly messy, even. It turned her whole life upside down, and she had to deal with the consequences: it works out, but it’s not plain sailing!

I also very much appreciated her insights into sexuality, sin and culture. As Carl brings out in his review, because of her background she thinks about these issues more than most: as such, her analysis is sharp. I particularly appreciated her focus on the root of sin as pride, how an unhealthy focus on our own feelings leads to problems in all areas (not just sexuality).

All that said – the book wasn’t perfect. I had a few issues: Firstly, I think the first two or three chapters were my favourites; after that the story seems to meander a little bit more – it loses some focus. She seems to spend time dwelling on things I didn’t think were particularly necessary; for example she spends a fair bit of time documenting the journey of her position on the Regulative Principle, which seemed unnecessary. Also, her experiences after conversion (such as the final chapter on adoption) are less relevant to her previous life and, to be honest with you, I didn’t find those so interesting!

I’m also not entirely sure I agree with the position – stated in the book, and by Carl Trueman above, that sexual sin is not solved by a change in context. Now I want to be careful here because I do agree that, if, for example, you suffer from a pornography problem the advice ‘get married’ will not solve the underlying issue.

That said, to my mind Paul does seem to making a comment on sexual sin and context in 1 Corinthians 7: “since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband” (v2); and ” if [unmarried / widowed people] cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (v9).

It seems that a healthy sexual context is not the whole solution to sexual sin by any means, but it is part of it. There is an element of Chalmers’ “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” there, I think.

Still, I’m probably splitting hairs here. In general, I’d recommend reading the book, perhaps less strongly than Carl Trueman, but it’s still worth it.